New Zealand’s Battle for te reo: Call for stories

As the nation prepares to mark 50-years since the Māori Language Petition was presented to parliament, New Zealanders are being asked to share their stories that tell of the battle for te reo Māori.

“This Wednesday at 12pm we will pay tribute to language champions, by celebrating te reo Māori in some way from wherever we are. We will return to parliament and honour those who half a century ago demanded change.”

“Only ten years before the petition, Māori New Zealanders were still banned from entering some retail outlets and public places. Māori children caught speaking te reo had been punished, sometimes physically assaulted for more than a century. The impact of overt as well as subtle racism had a devastating impact on our language, 50 years ago hardly any of our children were fluent speakers of their own language.”

“The battle for the survival of te reo Māori has been fought by generations of people, in our smallest towns to our biggest cities. On our televisions, in our schools, at our workplaces: and importantly in our own homes. Those stories need to be told, remembered and learned from,” said Māori Language Commissioner, Professor Rawinia Higgins.

“We are keen for young New Zealanders to interview their parents and elders: What was it like in Aotearoa when they were growing up? Where did they see or hear te reo?”

At midnight the commission launched the interactive Stories of Te Reo website.  A repository where people can read others’ stories and share their own. Every school and kura in New Zealand will receive unique Toolkete so young people can begin to understand this history.

“This year marks some significant milestones so we are encouraging individuals, families and communities to share a story, memory or memento that help tell the stories of the battle for our country’s first language.”

2022 Māori language milestones:

  • 50 years since the Māori language petition was presented;
  • 35 years since te reo became an official language; and
  • 35 years since the Māori Language Commission opened our doors.

Other significant anniversaries include:

  • 50 years since Matatini began (under another name);
  • 40 years since the first kōhanga reo; and several iwi radio stations will also celebrate individual anniversaries.
  • 2022 also saw the first Matariki public holiday, something the commission began lobbying for more than 20-years-ago.

“The one thing that hasn’t changed over all these years is that te reo still needs the support of New Zealanders if it is to survive and thrive. We know it takes one generation to lose a language and three to get it back: The countdown is on.”

“More New Zealanders than ever before see te reo as part of their identity as a New Zealander and that speaking te reo is something to be proud of. 35-years ago when te reo became an official language of New Zealand, many feared that te reo would divide us. But in 2022 te reo brings us together. It is the language of Aotearoa and everyone who calls Aotearoa home.”

“From the days when it was banned, to protest marches and petitions, Treaty of Waitangi claims, counter claims and cases taken to the Privy Council and back: the battle for te reo was waged everywhere from our dinner tables to the highest courts on earth. It is a taonga for all New Zealanders to cherish, now and into the future.”

Māori Language Moment: 12pm Wednesday 14 September 2022

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